Building business connections while working up a sweat

· The Pulse

Networking may be important for business, but defaulting to drinks after work is not always the best for one's body. That's why some members of Edmonton's startup community are organizing fitness-oriented ways to get people together instead.

Arden Tse, an investment manager with Yaletown Partners, and Matt Anderson-Baron, co-founder and CEO of Future Fields, put together Fit for Tech, an hour-long CrossFit training session, open to anyone in the tech or entrepreneurial community.

Booze tends to be involved in a lot of networking events, such as the TNT Happy Hour that Startup TNT holds every Thursday night. Fit for Tech offers something a bit different, Tse told Taproot.

"I thought… let's do something for networking that's healthy and that will bring our community together and isn't the standard get-together on a weekday after work and go for drinks," Tse said.

Fit for Tech isn't the only networking event in the Edmonton startup community that eschews alcohol. There's also Founder's Tennis at the Kinsmen Club tennis courts, or Community Coffee at Edmonton Unlimited, for example. However, a lot of these events focus on startup founders, and Tse found Fit for Tech attracts a wider scope of people.

"If we're going to scale up our community and grow it, we have to start including and creating opportunities for the talent that surrounds the founders," he said.

So far, Tse and Anderson-Baron have held the event twice at Black Tusk Athletics, with 22 people at the June event and 12 people at the July event, each paying a $25 drop-in fee.

Both times, Tse said, he has met people who he wouldn't have connected with at a traditional networking event. One such person had "significant computer engineering experience" but was not involved in the community "because everything is around drinking and around founders, and he doesn't drink and he's not a founder," Tse said. "When he came up to see this, he was like, 'Oh, this is fantastic.'"

Twenty-one smiling people in exercise gear stand in two rows in front of a wall with the sign Black Tusk

Arden Tse (front row, second from the left) and Matthew Anderson Baron (front row, second from the right) organized Fit for Tech at Black Tusk Athletics. (Supplied)

While CrossFit may have an intimidating reputation for some, Anderson-Baron said Fit for Tech is open to all skill levels.

"There's this perception that it's this macho, ultra, extreme form of workout. And in some ways it is — the sport of CrossFit is like that," said Anderson-Baron, who has been involved in the sport for more than a decade. "But when you go to a regular gym, it's not at all like that."

Fit for Tech gives people a chance to truly connect instead of just figuring out how to forward each other's business interests, Tse added. People aren't just coming from a "transactional, 'Hey, what do you do? What can you do for me?'" mindset, he said. "It's more like we get to know each other as people, and we sweat it together."

Tse inspired Jared Szuch, founder of Good Day Optics, to put together his own exercise-based networking event for Ride MTB Day, a worldwide celebration of mountain biking. He, too, wanted to meet new people over something besides food and drinks. And he wanted to bring people together over shared interests, without an agenda in mind, which can make interactions feel transactional.

"When I have someone who talks to me for five or 10 minutes, and they're just trying to figure out what I do and whether or not I can support them, the conversation usually ends before they want to end it," he said.

Szuch, whose company sells adventure gear, is making "Good Days for Mountain Biking" a regular thing, meeting every second Monday to "make some friends, ride some new trails, and have a Good Day." The next one is set for Aug. 28 in the west end, with more to follow in September in Terwillegar Park and Goldbar Park.

Four mountain bikers stop on a trail while another approaches on the other side of a boardwalk on a trail in a wooded area

After a successful meetup for Ride MTB Day, Jared Szuch is organizing a regular mountain-biking networking event every second Monday. (Supplied)